When you’re doing press for a movie that’s all about how confidence is the key to looking your best, what do you wear when you’re not feeling so hot? If you’re Amy Schumer, you go for business on top (a blazer and blouse), casual on the bottom (sweatpants and sneakers).
“I feel like garbage today,” Schumer says, noting that it’s the second day of her period. “But I knew the cameras were only going to shoot waist-up, so I’m in huge underwear and dirty sweatpants — and I’m feeling blessed as hell.”
For the most part, she is blessed as hell. After becoming a household name through her Comedy Central sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer,” she’s starred in films, both successful (“Trainwreck”) and not so much (“Snatched”); written a best-selling book of essays; branched out to Broadway (starring in Steve Martin’s “Meteor Shower”); planned a host of projects, including a script with Jennifer Lawrence, and has been pushing for gun control. Schumer has reached that point in her career, and in her life as a woman in the spotlight, where she knows it doesn’t matter what she wears, as long as she owns it.
The character she plays in “I Feel Pretty,” which Schumer co-produced, is far from that realization. Renee has cripplingly low self-esteem, which holds her back in her career and her love life. She can dress up and put on makeup from the fancy cosmetic line she works for, but all she sees in the mirror is something in need of polish and improvement, the equivalent of dirty sweatpants.
Until the day Renee falls off her bike at SoulCycle and bonks her head. When she comes to, she suddenly sees herself as supermodel-gorgeous. Cue the work success, cute new boyfriend . . . and the predictable Twitter backlash to the movie trailer.
Some saw the movie’s premise as offensive — that a woman needs to sustain a traumatic brain injury to feel beautiful. And by the way, Schumer is already beautiful. But the trailer critics should wait to judge the full arc of the movie, says Schumer, who brings to the project years of experience dealing with haters and body-image issues, on-screen and off.
“This isn’t a story about a fat, ugly woman who gets beautiful,” Schumer said in the interview, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington. “It’s about a girl with really low self-esteem. . . . Even those who are considered the hottest girls, they have crippling self-esteem as well.”
“People got upset about, ‘Oh, a woman has to hit her head and feel good about herself?!’ ” says Rory Scovel, who plays Schumer’s love interest, Ethan. “But this particular woman did need to. That’s how low she was with herself.”
For years, Schumer’s comedy has poked fun at how Hollywood places near-impossible beauty standards on women, standards that can lead to the kind of body-image issues her character Renee struggles with.
On her Comedy Central show, an Emmy-winning episode parodied “12 Angry Men” by having a room of male “jurors” debate whether she’s is hot enough to be on television. In her standup specials, she’s questioned whether men will still want to sleep with her after she’s gained a bit of weight. (Uh, the answer is yes.) She was once planning to star in a “Barbie” movie, in which the protagonist gets kicked out of Barbieland for not being perfect enough. On Instagram, she received hate mail and you-go-girl’s for posting a nude photo of herself.
“As someone who has been in the public eye and has gotten a ton of feedback on my appearance over the years, some people are like: ‘She’s the most repulsive person on Earth,’ and some people say, ‘She’s beautiful.’ They’re both right, and neither of those affects how I feel about myself,” Schumer says.
This new movie is both on-brand for Schumer and could be seen as a poor casting choice. To make more of a statement about beauty, the film could have reached miles from the blonde-white-feminine norm.
But no one actor, nor a single movie, can represent everyone. When any character is portrayed as lacking in beauty, it will invite online attacks. At its core, “I Feel Pretty” is a story of how easily all kinds of insecurities — based on physical appearance, intellect, gender expectations, etc. — can hold any of us back. And how much confidence alone can fix.
Those insecurities don’t sprout on their own, of course; they’re fed by superficial notions of what’s good or desired. Since Schumer’s character is single, the movie targets online dating as a place where looks seem to matter above all else.
“I’ve been on all of these sites,” Renee says to her friends Jane and Vivian (played by Busy Philipps and Aidy Bryant), with whom she’s making a joint dating profile. “No one even looks at the profile. They only care about the picture. And I’m sick of it!”
It’s a frustration many singles share. Spend just a day on a dating app, and even someone with the healthiest self-image — with a profile full of fabulous selfies — can soon feel like an undesirable mess.
Schumer got married recently, but she has done her time on dating apps — and knows how soul-crushing they can be. “It’s like they’re telling you your worth on there,” Schumer says, acknowledging that “you can’t blame people for judging on the picture, because that’s all you really have.”
“People just see you — they don’t know you yet,” she adds. Being superhot isn’t necessarily a good thing, either. “Everyone wants to go out with you,” Schumer says of the flawless online profile, but a dater might still wonder: “Who wants to get to know me?”
When Renee suddenly sees herself as gorgeous, all kinds of doors open to her that were slammed shut before. Not because of how anyone else perceives her, but because of how she sees herself. “She got everything she wanted looking exactly as she is,” notes Abby Kohn, who wrote and directed the film with Marc Silverstein. Which is a lesson for real-life daters, too. “You show people how you value yourself,” she adds. “And once [Renee] did, her whole world changed.”
Fittingly, Renee meets Ethan not online, but in line at the dry cleaners. Sure, he might have been attracted to her picture alone, but the way she makes him laugh is clearly what he’s drawn to from the get-go. (In her real life, Schumer says, personality was a big part of her attraction to her husband: “He’s a mensch.”)
Of course, even the most confident among us don’t always feel amazing. For those moments, Scovel finds a mix of vulnerability and confidence does the trick: “Instead of hiding how you feel or what you’re going through because you’re scared what people are going to think of you, just plow through and show them you kind of don’t [care],” he says.
Schumer’s answer can be found right in her lap: “Just be comfortable,” she says. “Figure out how to be comfortable.”
Today, for her, that answer is pairing a blazer with sweatpants. Tomorrow it might be something else entirely.